The Sandy Burglar story revisited

By Joseph Farah

More amazing details of former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger’s theft and deliberate concealment of classified documents emerged last week – just before the Christmas holiday, at a time few Americans were watching the news.

In a report by National Archives Inspector General Paul Brachfeld, we learn, more than three years after the crime against the American people and the laws of the land, that Berger hid some of the documents under a construction trailer.

We also learn that at first no law enforcement agencies were even notified of suspicions about the crime.

We learn that his first “cover story” was that he might have inadvertently thrown the papers in the trash.

We learn he admitted retrieving the documents he stashed under the construction trailer and brought them to his office.

We learn the reason he was not confronted earlier – and that law enforcement authorities were not notified – was because of Berger’s high-level position in the Clinton White House.

And let’s remember what Sandy Burglar was doing rummaging through classified materials in the National Archives. He was on assignment for former President Clinton, to help prepare him for upcoming testimony before the 9/11 commission as well as to prepare himself for impending testimony before the Senate and House intelligence committees.

Specifically, he was reviewing National Security Council documents about Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida and Sudan. Now, as you might recall, if you have a very good memory, the Clinton administration was offered bin Laden’s head on a platter by the Sudanese government – an offer spurned by the White House.

As you also might recall, the 9/11 commission was investigating the mistakes that led to the biggest attack on American soil in history.

What was not learned from the latest report is as interesting as what was learned:

  • Which documents did Berger take?
  • What was the nature of those documents?
  • Were all of them eventually returned?
  • What procedures have changed, if any, at the National Archives to ensure that big shots like Berger are not permitted to steal national security secrets in the future?
  • Why, after all we have learned about the startling details of this high-profile security breach by a former high-level official, was the punishment so minimal?

Again, in case you forgot, which could easily be the case with meager media coverage of this astonishing betrayal, Berger plea-bargained a criminal sentence on the charge of unlawfully removing and retaining classified documents. He got no prison time, was fined $50,000, was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and was barred from access to classified material for three years.

Berger commands speaking fees of about $50,000. So, if he indeed paid his own fine, which we don’t know for certain, he could do so with one speech. In fact, his speaking fee may have gone up as a direct result of the controversy.

The American people don’t even know the nature of the “community service” he performed or is scheduled to perform.

And the restriction on his access to classified material ends in 2009 – making him eligible to be back in a sensitive position should his party win the White House in 2008.

The whole story is so breathtaking – from beginning to end. It demonstrates so clearly that there are two standards of justice in America – one for the average American citizen and the other for the political elites.

If anything, you would think that political elites would be held to a higher standard of accountability and justice than average Americans. But that is clearly not the case. The message sent by the handling of the matter by President Bush’s Justice Department is that you can get away with anything if you are well-connected in America.

If you doubt what I’m saying, just try lifting some classified documents from the National Archives yourself and, when you are caught, ask for the Sandy Berger sentence. Somehow, I don’t think you’ll be lucky enough to get it.